Wednesday, March 6, 2013

When to Avoid the Starboard Lee Bow


After some on the water coaching this weekend, one thing I noticed pretty quickly was how reluctant sailors are to duck beneath an oncoming starboard boat.  Every time a port boat came across the course and intersected with a starboard boat, the port boat would lee bow, and attempt to sail out from underneath the starboard boat.  Most of the time, the lee bowing boat pinched off the starboard boat, or forced them to tack away, and then the lee bowing boat would tack back and follow the other boat out to the right hand side of the course.  The entire scenario would usually occur in a matter of seconds, making it obvious to me that the lee bowing boat had always intended to continue out to the right hand side of the course.  By adding in these two extra tacks, not only were the sailors not guaranteed to pass the oncoming starboard boat, but they added two tacks to the upwind leg, costing them two to four boat lengths on EVERYONE ELSE in the fleet.  While lee bowing another boat is sometimes the correct tactical and strategic decision on the race course, making it the default tactical maneuver is a bad habit that sailors should make an effort to correct.



When is lee bowing a starboard boat a good move?

Lee bowing a starboard boat is a good move when you are on the lower and middle parts of a race course, where there is time to jet out to the left side to take advantage of a wind shift, more pressure, current, etc.  Often times, sailors will come from the left side to check back in with their competition, but ultimately want to protect the left side.  These sailors will sail back toward the right hand side until they come in contact with a starboard boat.  At this point, they will lee bow and force the other sailor back off to the non-favored side of the course.  Sailors who intentionally do this are properly executing the lee bow from a tactical and strategic standpoint.  Not only is this sailor getting to the favored side of the course, but he or she is also putting the boat in a position where they stay in close quarters with the rest of the fleet, while forcing an opposing boat to the non-favored side of the course.

When is ducking a starboard boat preferable to lee bowing?

Ducking a starboard boat is particularly advantageous when the right hand side of the course is favored, but even more so when you reach the latter stages of a windward leg.  While the first statement seems relatively obvious, many sailors are unwilling to give up the boat length (MAXIMUM) to duck the oncoming boat.  The added tacks alone result in a loss of at least twice the distance you would lose ducking the starboard boat.  Now, add on the lost boat lengths in leverage and time sailing away from a favorable windshift, pressure, etc., and that distance lost from lee bowing grows exponentially.

As you move up the latter stages of a windward leg, lee bowing a starboard boat will put you in serious risk of getting pinned by a starboard boat.  It will also prevent you from taking a more powerful position on the course.  As you get closer to a windward mark, the odds of a wind shift, or some other factor, affecting a boat’s position decreases.  If you duck a starboard boat instead of lee bowing, you guarantee yourself starboard advantage when you tack back toward the mark.  While this may not matter so much early on in a windward leg, the closer you get to a mark, the less time a boat will have to pinch another boat off and tack across.  Thus, as you get very close to the weather mark, ducking a boat, and then immediately tacking on her hip can put you in a powerful pinning position.  Even if the boat will pinch you off in 15 boat lengths, if you are only 10 boat lengths away from the lay line, you have just guaranteed yourself one more boat prior to rounding the windward mark.

How do you execute the perfect duck?

The two most important pieces of a proper duck are what I call the entry and exit.  The entry is the part of the duck where you are turning down to go beneath the other boat’s stern.  Other than maybe tacking, this maneuver will use more rudder than anything else you do on a windward leg.  Because the duck seems like a time for pause or rest, there is a tendency to ease up a bit at this point if it is windy.  In fact, this is one of the most important times to put the most effort into keeping the boat flat or slightly heeled to windward.  YOU DO NOT WANT TO SLOW DOWN HERE!  While the duck does cost you distance, this is a great opportunity to build up speed to protect your vulnerability as a ducking boat and to minimize your loss.  The faster you are going, the more you will gain back on the starboard boat, and the easier it will be to overtake this boat when you tack back to starboard.

Anticipation and timing are extremely important to executing a perfect duck.  If you duck too early, you will cost yourself valuable leverage and distance on the course, and give the other boat a longer time to react to what you are doing.  If you duck too late, you will use too much rudder on both the entry and exit, not to mention risking a collision.  The distance you are from the other boat when you start to duck, will depend on the boat you are sailing, where the point of contact between the boats is, how fast you are going, and the conditions.  However, the goal is to start the duck at the closest distance possible, where you are still able to maintain a smooth and minimal turn in both the entry and exit.  

The exit of the duck starts when your bow crosses the plane of the other boat’s stern, and ends as your boat emerges almost completely on the other side.  During the exit, it is imperative that you do not have to turn sharply to windward as you round up past the boat’s stern.  The success of the exit’s rounding is actually completely dependent on your angle of entry.  If you enter at a sharp angle, you are automatically forced into a bigger turn in the exit.  The principles are similar to a wide and tight mark rounding.  If you sharply turn around the object, the boat will slide to leeward and further away from the point of entry.   Furthermore, you will lose all of the speed that you built up during the entry phase.  Entering at a more subtle angle will position you for an exit with a subtle turn and minimal rudder movement.  This will keep you moving at full speed, and prevent you from sliding to leeward.

A second factor that is imperative to the exit is taking advantage of the momentary wind shift created by the other boat’s sail(s).  As your sail(s) start to emerge on the other side of the starboard boat, there is a brief lift created by flow off of the other boat’s sails.  While this lift is short lived, heading up for that instant, and then turning back down (ideally without ever having the sail(s) luff) will give you a few inches back on the boat you just ducked.  This is important because, if all things remain equal, when you both tack back, that boat will no longer be able to cross you.



Rules Note: 

Remember, the other boat cannot alter her course once you start to duck them.  That means that until you duck is completed, that boat cannot tack.  Thus, keeping your speed up and executing smooth turns will make it next to impossible for another boat to have control of you for any sustained period of time following the duck.  If you come in slow and sliding, a boat will not have any problem tacking on top of you and holding their lane comfortably.

See you on the water,

Zim Coach

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